FLORIDA Charley's death toll rises as heat affects residents
An estimated 800,000 still don't have power.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Two heat-related deaths in southwest Florida were linked to Hurricane Charley on Wednesday as a pair of Central Florida utilities hedged their bets on when power will be restored to their frustrated customers.
The latest fatalities, in Lee and Highlands counties, brought Charley's death toll to 22, state officials said.
The deaths added even more urgency to the tedious task of returning electricity to homes and businesses in a state where an estimated 800,000 residents still don't have power.
The scope of recovery problems continued to grow in the 25 counties hardest hit after Hurricane Charley slammed into Charlotte Harbor on Friday.
Charley will likely cost insurers at least $7.4 billion, compared with Hurricane Andrew's $15.5 billion payout, or $20.3 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars, according to the Insurance Institute. The industry trade group based its estimate on initial claims data from Florida residents and businesses.
The storm likely will be the nation's fourth-most-costly disaster for insurers and the second-most-expensive hurricane after Andrew, according to the Institute. Earlier estimates have put storm damage at up to $14 billion.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency opened its primary disaster field office in Orlando on Wednesday. But officials, volunteers and advocacy groups expressed concern that some elderly residents, and migrant and seasonal farm workers might not be getting the help they need.
Still, FEMA director Mike Brown, who came to Orlando on Wednesday, said more than $7.5 million in federal assistance funds has already flowed into the hands of hurricane victims.
FEMA, which now has 1,191 personnel in Florida, had processed 57,371 applications for aid within the 25-county disaster area as of Wednesday evening, he said.
The federal government's primary disaster agency expects to have more than 500 of its employees working just in the Orlando field office within a short period. A satellite disaster recovery center opened in Lake Wales on Wednesday, with as many as two others expected to be opened elsewhere in the state.
"We are now transitioning from the response phase to the recovery stage," said Brown. "There is a natural cycle to disasters, and we are in the cranky stage."
The crankiness meter may continue to rise for Orlando Utilities Commission and Kissimmee Utility Authority customers after those utilities acknowledged that they would not meet their goals of restoring all service by Friday and Sunday, respectively.
Florida Power & amp; Light and Progress Energy officials, however, said they are still planning on making their deadlines for their customers. FP & amp;L had set a deadline of today. Progress had set Saturday as a goal for most customers except Polk County, which has a Sunday target.
The latest reported deaths included a 74-year-old man in Lee County, who died from hypertension and heat exhaustion, and a 55-year-old man in Highlands County, who died from heart disease exacerbated by the heat, said state Health Department spokesman Rob Hayes.
An elderly Hardee County man who died earlier in the week from a heart attack also was working in the heat, according to Scotty Sanderson, assistant commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The deaths followed blunt public warnings the day before from state health officials about the risks of working in Florida's heat and humidity -- and the risks of generating power in unsafe ways.
A 56-year-old man in Lee County was found dead in his home after he operated his gas-powered generator in an attached shed to keep it safe from looters. He became the third carbon-monoxide poisoning death since Hurricane Charley knocked out power Friday.